Nine years ago, when I used TripAdvisor for the first time—for a two-week drive around New Zealand’s South Island— I used it just to find places to stay. As the site has evolved, my use of it has evolved too. I’ve now posted 120 reviews and, during a recent six-week trip to Europe with my wife and young kids, I tapped the site virtually every day. This is how I’ve learned to use TripAdvisor to plan excellent vacations.
How to Find a Hotel
Once I know where I’m going, I do a quick search for, say, Salzburg hotels, and then enter my rough dates to see room prices. When I find a hotel that looks good, has decent rates, and seems to have availability for my dates, I click into the reviews and sort by “Families” at the top. I have three kids, so I want a hotel that lets at least three of us stay in one room and that, ideally, has connecting rooms. This can usually be quickly ascertained by scanning the reviews.
If I don’t find an attractive hotel by eyeballing the results, I’ll go back to the main listing of all hotels and sort at the top by “Family-Friendly” (you’ll find this among the “I Like” buttons or under the “Style” menu) and usually by location as well, if I know the area of town I’m looking for (e.g., City Center). I don’t usually sort the results like that when doing my primary search because there’s always the chance there’s a great hotel that, for whatever reason, isn’t in those Family-Friendly rankings. But in a city with hundreds of hotels and multiple areas to stay, this strategy can quickly highlight the best property for us.
How to Find an Activity
We took a Disney Cruise through the Mediterranean this past summer. For each port stop, I went to TripAdvisor and searched for the city to find its main information page (like this one for Venice), and then chose Attractions. Once there, you’ll see an Activities tab toward the top of the page. I quickly read the reviews of the one or two top-ranked companies or individuals, looking particularly for mentions of young kids. I then clicked through to the tour company websites (links are usually available on the site), and emailed them with our dates, group size and ages of the kids, and asked for proposals. As a result, we had great private tours in Venice, Athens, Ephesus (Turkey) and Malta, all at lower prices (on a per-person basis) and with far more flexibility than if we had booked shore excursions through the cruise line. In Athens we were practically alone at the Acropolis in the late afternoon—all of the large cruise excursion buses had come and gone by that point. The Activities listed on TripAdvisor usually include private day tours but also foodie tours, cooking classes, boat trips, free walking tours and Segway tours—options for families that they may not otherwise be aware of.
In Paris I searched through the TripAdvisor Activities listings for the top tour operators, and again looked for reviews that mentioned young kids. I ended up booking walks through the Louvre, the Marais, Notre Dame and Montmartre with Paris Muse and Context Travel as a result. We all loved those walks. They added both fun and educational dimensions to the days, and in the case of the Louvre, gave us a very kid-friendly way to see the world’s most popular museum during peak tourist season—without having to deal with lines or crowds.
How to Find a Restaurant
In Venice our hotel emailed me a list of its top 15 restaurant recommendations. I brought each one up on TripAdvisor, mapped it in relation to the hotel (by using the maps on the right side of the screen and choosing to view hotels and restaurants), and read through reviews. If people described a restaurant as being formal or having really slow service, I nixed it. I put together a short list of three restaurants that sounded perfect for us, and the hotel made reservations at each.
How to Change Things Up Mid-Trip
This past summer my family spontaneously ended up in Bled, Slovenia, because of TripAdvisor. We had planned a week in Salzburg, but with constant rain we weren’t able to enjoy the city much. So I grabbed a map of Europe and looked for a destination no more than 250km (a couple of hours in a car) from Salzburg. I found Bled and a few other cities and went through the above steps, looking for a destination [city/city rep] that had an available, family-friendly hotel at a good price, and that offered activities that sounded interesting for families. I emailed the top three listed hotels for Bled and only one had availability, so I booked it. In the reviews, several people had mentioned enjoying good meals at the hotel restaurant. Normally I would have evaluated other places to eat, but in this case I liked the idea of a (very short) walk to dinner. The meal, and the entire impromptu trip to Bled, were surprise highlights of our summer.
How to Get Answers to Travel Questions
It’s relatively hidden, but at the top of the main TripAdvisor site, under More, is the Travel Forum. I use this all the time. Whether I want information on day trips from Paris or the dates of the 2014 Yi Ping Festival in Thailand, I can find it there. I don’t think I’ve ever searched for anything that hasn’t been previously asked and answered. Google search results often point to the Travel Forum anyway, but I usually head there directly to see more (and better) results. Of course, now I can also Ask Wendy.
Meet our writer
Eric Stoen, the founder of Travel Babbo, travels around the world constantly with his three kids. Wendy met him when he won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest a few years ago and was so impressed with his travel savvy that she invited him to contribute to WendyPerrin.com.